BRL to be Exhibitor at Reinvent the Toilet Fair: India to Showcase Advancements that Improve Sanitation and Health

Issue date: 18 March 2014

The BioEnergy Team from the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL), a collaboration between the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) and the University of Bristol in the UK, announced today that they will be an exhibitor at the Reinvent the Toilet Fair: India event which will be co-hosted by the Government of India's Department of Biotechnology and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in March 2014.

Dr Ioannis Ieropoulos will showcase a smart toilet that aims to help bring sanitation to those who need it most, entitled Urine-tricity. The fair is also supported by the Indian Ministry of Urban Development.

The Reinvent the Toilet Fair: India aims to stimulate discussion and spur partnerships to improve global sanitation and bring affordable sanitation solutions to people who need it most. The fair is also an opportunity to recognize India's leadership and commitment to improving child health and fostering innovative solutions to persistent development challenges.

Dr Ioannis Ieropoulos' project is one of approximately 50 exhibits that will be on display during the two-day fair.

The researchers from UWE Bristol are showcasing the latest development for a smart toilet. The technology for this work has already sparked global media interest. In July 2013 the researchers announced that it was possible to power a mobile phone using urine. The exhibit is a smart toilet that can power and recharge small electrical devices using urine as the power source and at the same time remove pathogens and clean the urine for sanitation purposes. The team is working towards a prototype that will be installed in Durban in South Africa for a bigger research trial. Eventually it is hoped that a smart toilet capable of generating power and removing pathogens from urine will go into manufacture.

The toilet has been designed so that the urine is 'collected' at source, and through feeding the urine to microbial fuel cells (MFCs), sufficient electricity is generated to power up a mobile phone, whilst also potentially removing pathogenic organisms from the fuel.

Dr Ioannis Ieropoulos describes the work. He said, “The exhibit we are taking to India is a urinal structure with its own floor and walls that looks like a cubicle. Urine collected in the urinal is fed into an MFC stack fixed to the back of the cubicle, and a lead connects from the stack to plug in and charge mobile phones. We have tested the technology using mobile phones, but in theory any small electronic device could in principle be charged.

“Microbial fuel cells (MFCs) work by employing live microbes which feed on urine (fuel) for their own growth and maintenance. The MFC is in effect a system which taps a portion of that biochemical energy used for microbial growth, and converts that directly into electricity. As the urine passes through the MFC stack, pathogens may also be removed. This forms part of the current work funded by the Gates Foundation.

“Thanks to the Gates Foundation, we are already working with researchers from Caltech in USA, and participating in the Reinvent the Toilet Fair presents us with a fantastic opportunity to meet up with other researchers and manufacturers from around the world.”

“Of the 1.1 billion people who defecate in the open, almost 60 percent are Indian,” said Professor K. Vijay Raghavan, secretary of the Indian Department of Biotechnology. “Sanitation solutions using the latest technology need not be complex or driven by expensive gadgetry, but they need to be innovative and address the many aspects of this multifaceted problem.”

“Today, because of a lack of toilets and poorly functioning infrastructure, massive amounts of untreated waste winds up in the environment, spreading disease,” said Brian Arbogast, director of the Water, Sanitation & Hygiene team at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “We are privileged to host the Reinvent the Toilet Fair: India with our partners to advance conversations about sanitation – it is a testament to the Indian government's commitment to improving how we deal with this pressing problem.”

Note: attendance at the fair is by invitation only. No further invitations will be extended.

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